This morning I get to the university in Cleveland early and as usual sit cross-legged in the hallway, it is the position of the student, I know. Today I am wearing my new soft grey jacket with the high collar that is almost backless, and my new black hat that is a sort of 20s cloche. And my soft stretchy black pants that are semi-harem that I tuck into my black boots. I know I look strange in northeastern Ohio, when I'm more butch or when I'm more femme, last week I was waiting for the eternal elevator at this same campus wearing my brown wool bubble skirt and a black jacket with poufy sleeves I've had forever that is a bit Victorian looking but is so old, almost a decade old that it now is shiny and faded. I feel two female students looking me up and down. I feel their gaze. I turn to one of them and smile. Can I help you? I ask. John and I have conversations about my wardrobe, often. I am conscious of feeling like an outsider here, I want to still feel like myself but I don't want to stand out. Is this too weird? I find myself now asking John, when I never asked this in Chicago, or any other big cities. Too: goth or something. Or not goth, like a Victorian femme-butch goth. Or sort of Scandinavian-Antwerp goth. If that makes any sense. I've never had to categorize what I like. Actually I like clothes the best that are minimal, that make one disappear, I have two pairs of pants I wear over and over, one of them being a pair of John's old black jeans he bought 6 years ago. But then a few pieces that are off, strange, misshapen. My idea of color is if it's dark gray. Dark gray is adding color, hunter green or dark blue. Sometimes a purple scarf. I recently bought a dark brown long-sleeved t-shirt and that to me felt like color. My students through the years often note approvingly when I wear color, when I wear my red wool beret, for instance. Or the gorgeous hot pink felt scarf that looks like a child's toy, that I bought at Liberty when living in London, a scene in which I insert inside Green Girl (which deals so much with shopping and clothes).
For the first year here in Akron I stopped wearing my clothes almost entirely, my uniform that I love, but then I resumed, I don't know why. I don't tend to write much about fashion here, but I love clothes, I have a Jean Rhys-like longing for the perfect dress, the perfect pair of boots, that I feel will complete me, for years I couldn't buy anything new, and so I kept all of my beautiful pieces like in a museum, refusing to wear them because I didn't want them ruined somehow by the heat or casualness of my body. The jacket that lacks a back was a recent purchase, an investment, to replace the faded black jacket, but instead I still wear the faded black jacket, I am afraid to wear the jacket because it is gray and I'm afraid I will spill something on it. So I have only worn it three times. One of the parts I love most in Cixous' Reveries of a Wild Woman, is when she writes about being in a Paris boutique, and fingering longingly the gorgeous colors of cashmere cardigans, and desiring, desiring so intensely to own one of them, to feel it wrapped around her body to feel that beauty on herself, clothes not as much about the outside seamlessness but some internal jouissance, like Walter Benjamin who writes of the department stores being temples consecrated to this intoxification. I have been rereading the manuscript and realizing how much I write to this side of myself. The sensualist, the materialist, the one who longs to purchase eyeshadow shades and never wear them, just to own a palette that dizzying, who loves color so much she never wears it.
This moment of alienation of being seen as a strange bug did happen in Chicago too, especially when I taught in the suburbs. I remember one time standing in the hallway while at the community college, wearing my oversized striped purple-and-blue trench, and my green leather wrestling boots, and a purple silk scarve that was like a ruffle collar. It was a costumey look, I tend not to wear costumey looks to teach, but that day I felt like it. And some guy stops me in the hallway: Are you from this country? he asks. I had actually just returned from living in London. But I savored this moment. Sometimes I savor alienation. These strange encounters.
Anyway, I sit in the hallway and ignore looks - because I am sitting because I am reading because my jacket lacks a back? - and I am reading Amina Cain's collection I Go To Some Hollow, re-read I should say, I reviewed it when it first came out, I am now teaching it to my graduate workshop tomorrow. One of the reasons I became distanced from the third-person objective review is I hardly could ever write how a book made me feel. When I first read Amina's book I went around the world in sort of a dizzy, thoughtful swim, for days afterwards, interesting too because so many of Amina's central characters are readers, readers who get lost in a trance by what they're reading, have it pattern the rhythm of their days. I am sitting there in the hallway and I am blocking out everything around me, I guess my students were standing over me, speaking to me, and still for a bit I was in a trance. Such a quiet voluptuousness reading Amina's stories, that I get as well from Duras. Rereading the book I realize again how extraordinary it is. I wonder if I can communicate it. One of her stories is named "A Body Walking Through Space," and that's really what her stories are, she doesn't write characters, she writes figures, bodies, and a sort of uneasy dance among them, these strange meditative encounters. Her walkers remind me of Pam Lu's Pamela, and Renee Gladman's works, and Danielle Dutton's last book - but also there's something so singular about them. Such a meditative quality to them. And such - such nuance to them. Remembering too when I was at AWP how Amina and I walked around and around Denver, trying to locate a party, and we stopped and asked a police officer for directions, and decided not to go, and I felt like I was in one of her stories. And her characters too experience that sense of otherworldliness, this outsiderness, this is something I'm reflecting on lately, when I allow myself to reflect on anything - what does it mean to be a character, to feel oneself a character. I am thinking that Amina Cain is kind of a contemporary Jane Bowles. And I think I mentioned that in the review, but now I think about it. Both of them these expert story tellers, who still had this sort of odd cadence to their stories, who make such unusual eccentric decisions for their characters, the story. I read a quote today by Aimee Bender that said something like the only setting I need is on the body, and that makes me think of Amina's stories as well. But also that Jane Bowles wrote Plain Pleasures, this story collection that contains the uncomparable Camp Cataract, and it was a story collection that took years and years to write, and is still, so singular. Also how both of them write of the erotic intimacies between women, that pitch and urgency to female friendships.There is a story in the collection where the main character lovingly and thoughtfully thinks of writing prompts for her creative writing workshop, while admitting how empty she felt in front of the classroom, and I thought - I'm a shit teacher. Lately I have felt so hollowed out, uncreative in my teaching. I don't know what prompt to assign for Amina's book - write an erotic encounter? Write a story where the setting is the body. I don't know.
Driving home on the highway I am listening to Pet Sounds, my mother loved the Beach Boys, so this is always melancholy for me, last week again the anniversary of her diagnosis, these ghosts begin to creep on me, my body begins to experience it in strange ways. Also I have begun to experience again traumatic flashes of my uncle, his sick and failing body, lately I have experienced a flash every half hour or so, after my mother died the flashes were overpowering for years and years, flashes of my mother on the rented hospital bed after she died, mouth wide open like those statues of those saints in ecstasy, I would be in public and suddenly I would shudder and emit a sort of silent scream, I am remembering now being in the hospital room as my uncle died, me and a carnival of my family members, and we are waiting, that moment, to see if he is dead, and my cousin who is a nun is behind me, and she has never seen a dead body, which I'm surprised by, and she says to me no he's not dead his eyes would be closed, and I have to tell her that one dies with one's eyes wide open, and I had to write a whole book to attempt to exorcise these mother-flashes, which actually did do it, and I cannot write another book to exorcise these uncle flashes. And driving on the highway I see dead deer, their gorgeous fallen bodies, and I scream, and it is like a flash, I scream, I scream.
I am driving and thinking about how I've distanced myself from the immediacy or intimacy of experience lately. How I've let myself stay numb because it's easier. For when I read Amina's stories or afterwards I feel kind of opened up, I feel I experience the world differently, she is really writing about this certain, I don't know, religiousness of experience - it's not religious, it's ritual, though. A richness of experience. I wish I lived life as such a watcher. And there have been years that I have, and those were the years I was happiest, writing in my journal, living and quietly documenting my experience, my quotidian. But lately I cannot. It is like having oneself opened up, and then the wound opens up. I wonder if this is why I cannot read or journal lately. I force myself in quick bursts, I will do my reading for class in the car, sitting in the hallway. A desire not to be too close to a sort of mysticism of experience. I think this is why I'm back on romance novels. I say back on romance novels like back on drugs - it is close to that, I'm ashamed of myself. I don't want to get a new computer even though mine is very old and chipped and dying and Microsoft Word kicks me off every day, because I don't want to transfer my files and have the Apple Geniuses see how many romance novels with writhing bodies and heaving bosoms on the cover I have in my Mac Kindle. This is a real anxiety. I have considered different angles of this. Especially since there's nothing more soothing - like a childhood masturbation, rubbing, rubbing that spot - than rereading them over and over again. And I realize I am reading them to overcome the flashes. That it allows the flashes to go away. The British publisher of Mills & Boons saying that they are better than Valium. What first began as research has become a sort of addiction, as if I allow myself I can be very seduced, extremely addicted. I wonder why I cannot read anything I'm supposed to - my 60 books of research for the thing. I'm sure there's something like pressure. I think it is probably something more. I once read somewhere that women read romance novels, are so soothed by them, because of the powerful maternal narrative, that the men-heroes become in a way like mothers, nurturing, gentle, fiercely protective. I wonder if that's what I'm desiring right now.
But except for the Amina Cain which I gulped down deliriously I have been rather anorectic lately. I haven't wanted to take anything in. Everything feels too close. Reading yes. Also food. I'm sure I'm consuming more than a normal caloric intake, it's a feeling more than anything, to close down. Thinking of Virginia and Vivienne's anorexia. For a while I was on a macrobiotic kick - brown rice, kale, tofu or beans or both - and then all of a sudden I've just gone off it. Crave to be unhealthy. The other night I refused to leave the bed even though John lovingly prepared a meal. I ate dark chocolate and a box of Saltines instead. Sometimes I am like those Egyptian pigs, just desiring to consume trash.